NASA’s InSight lander has detected the first known seismic tremor on Mars. This Marsquake could unveil how much water is hiding deep within the planet.

InSight landed on Mars in November 2018, and in December it placed a seismometer on the surface to monitor for quakes.

NASA and its European partners announced today that on 6 April the lander’s seismometer detected its first official quake.

The team hopes to gather data about the activity at the center of the red planet. Thus, hopefully providing insight into its formation billions of years ago.

“It’s great to finally have a sign that there’s still seismic activity on Mars,” said Philippe Lognonne, a researcher at Paris’ Institut de Physique du Globe. “We’ve waited for our first Martian quake for months.”

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The seismometer is as sensitive as the best instruments we use on Earth. It can detect shifts in the ground of less than the thickness of an atom.

However, the quake detected by the probe was very small, so it didn’t provide much insight into the Martian interior. But the measurement gave us some basic information about how marsquakes compare to earthquakes.

“On Earth, the duration of the signal is a few minutes, on the moon, it’s closer to an hour, and on Mars, it’s around ten minutes,” says Lognonne.

That’s because the rocks on Earth are full of water, which absorbs the shock of seismic activity better than dry ground, shortening the signal. The first marsquake we’ve detected indicates that the shallow subsurface of Mars does not have much water – far less than Earth – but is not quite as dry as the moon.

The team said three other similar but weaker signals of tremors had been picked up by the apparatus.

According to NASA’s Bruce Banerdt, the quake detection “marks the birth of a new discipline: Martian seismology.”

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Thumbnail image: NASA’s InSight lander monitoring the Martian ground. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech